Lankenau teacher travels to Library of Congress to brush up on teaching tools

Herb Soll, a history teacher at Lankenau High School in Roxborough spent a week this summer immersed in a program at the Library of Congress to help him implement primary source documents into his teaching.

Soll, who teaches African American history and will be picking up Advanced Placement government and American history classes this fall, says using more primary source documents like photographs and legislation, helps break up the monotony of the classroom.

“Kids get bored listening to me talk all the time,” Soll says. “It gives them the opportunity to analyze something and come into the information for themselves.”

The focus of the five-day seminar was the civil rights movement. As a teacher of African-American history, the topic was particularly applicable to Soll, who says the strategies he learned can be used no matter what the subject or time period is.

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Out of an applicant pool of about 400 teachers throughout the country, Soll was one of about 30 teachers that was ultimately chosen to attend the program. The Library of Congress has held five such teacher seminars throughout the summer.

The focus on the civil rights movement included an in-depth look at the 1964 Civil Rights Act and events that led up to its ultimate passage. 

Looking ahead to the start of the upcoming school year, Soll says he plans to use primary documents more frequently than he used to. Historic photographs, he notes, are particularly interesting to him. 

“You can show a student a picture that we, as adults, recognize, and break it up in four parts,” he explains. “Have them analyze each portion and it will come together for them in a way one page of notes won’t,” he says, adding that classrooms interactions with students have come a long way since he was in school. 

Soll returned from the program at the beginning of August.

For now, he’s preparing for the beginning of a new school year and hoping his students are busy with their summer reading assignments.

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